YWS 30th anniversary series: He
The first time he had ever slept in a bed was at Youth Without Shelter. His life began thousands of miles from Etobicoke. His mom died giving birth to his sister. He tried to live with his new step-mother but she wanted no part of him in her family. For his safety he ran away. Home became a covered space under a bridge. Meals were scavenged out of garbage cans. From the age of 12 he lived on the streets of an African country where half the population exist below the international poverty line. He made a living by scouring the streets for bottles to return. He did have dreams. He loved to learn but he knew he had no future on the street. Gradually, he saved his money from the bottles. He even sold the last connection to his mother: four cattle. At age 17 he had saved enough for an airplane ticket to Canada.
The Red Cross brought him to the safety of Youth Without Shelter. Yes, he knew English but spoke little those first weeks. Rarely did he smile. He kept his room immaculate. Treasured sleeping in a bed rather than on the pavement. In his short life he had never experienced a living space of his own. By quietly listening the YWS Case Manager began to build a relationship with him. She empathized with his fortitude. She remembered how it felt to arrive in Canada alone at a young age, far from her home, with no family and friends.
A circle of care surrounded him at Youth Without Shelter. The housing coordinator connected him to immigration resources so that was able to secure school and work permits. His case manager recognizing his desire to learn, helped him enroll in an English literacy class. She introduced him to a volunteer position where he could practice his English. Slowly he began to open up. Together they identified his goals. He wanted to finish high school.
He moved out of the emergency residence into the Stay in School Program and enrolled in high school. School was a struggle. He had many gaps in his education. Volunteer tutors helped him catch up.
Upon graduating high school he moved out of YWS and headed west for permanent work in the hospitality industry. He now manages a coffee beverage café. Two years ago he used his vacation time to come back to Toronto and speak at the YWS Annual General Meeting. “You helped me when I needed help and became my family when I had no family. I would not be the adult I’m today if it wasn’t for the support YWS gave me. Thank you for taking time to look beyond my struggles and mistakes.”